(Photo: Jacob Franklin/WCSN)
As the temperature outside begins to heat up, so does the intensity for the Arizona State University men’s club lacrosse team, as their early season nonconference matches begin to be replaced by heated affairs with rival division opponents.
“Conference season is conference season,” head coach Todd MacRobbie said. “You got to win the conference.”
The Sun Devils are in a strong position to equal, if not better, their Southwestern Lacrosse Conference performance from last year, when they went 3-1 in division games and finished second behind only Grand Canyon University.
With their victory over San Diego State on March 25, ASU locked up a place in the SLC championship tournament next month, improving to 2-0 in division play this year. However, wins in their final two games against rivals GCU and Arizona will be harder to come by.
“It’s all about the next game…that’s all that really matters right now,” ASU assistant coach Justin Straker said. “The way this team has got to come to practice each day with a work-like mentality.”
Heightening the stakes for the Sun Devils’ final two regular season games is the chance for a conference title. The winner of the SLC tournament will get an automatic bid to the MCLA National Championships at the end of the year, and bragging rights over their regional rivals.
“Every division game is important because you are recruiting against the same guys,” MacRobbie noted. “It’s like football, ASU and (Arizona), some kids might be swayed to go to (Arizona) if they win that year. They might be swayed to go to ASU if they win that year…You are recruiting for the same kids so every division game is important.”
A lot could be decided in the Sun Devils’ final two games, both on the field and in the standings. The Antelopes are currently ranked third in the MCLA coaches poll, six spots higher than ASU’s number eight spot. GCU also knocked off the Sun Devils last season in what turned out to be the division-deciding game.
Meanwhile, the Wildcats might have to win the conference to reach the National Championships, as their three losses in their last four games have seen them take a tumble down the rankings.
The top three teams in the SLC South Division clinch a spot in the conference tournament, but the division champion gets a bye to the semifinals. ASU would likely need to win both of their final two matches to top the division for the first time since 2014.
“It’s a lot higher intensity, the games matter more to get to postseason play,” ASU assistant coach Justin Straker said. “The history of ASU lacrosse, we have always structured it so that we have these games at the end of the season so if we were clicking, so hopefully we can build off this (five game) win streak and keep clicking.”
Historically, the Sun Devils have also used the conference tournament as a spring board to deep runs in the MCLA tournament. From 2010 to 2014, the Sun Devils qualified for the SLC Championship game; in each of those seasons, ASU went on to make the MCLA Final Four as well.
“If you win your divisional games, you set yourself up for a nice conference playoff,” MacRobbie said.